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Early mock drafts are highly inaccurate, historically

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Mock drafts are fun to read, but why do we waste our time on them so early on in the process?

NFL Draft Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

With Super Bowl LIV set to be played this weekend as the last game of the 2019-2020 season, the attention of all NFL teams is going to immediately shift to offseason needs. Things like the NFL Draft, the re-singing of players and free agency, amongst other tasks, is going to be at the forefront of the conversation for these franchises. But for teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars — who were eliminated from playoff contention months ago — a lot of these evaluations have already been taking place.

For Jaguars fans, we’ve been looking at mock drafts and constantly projecting which players may be available in the first round for Jacksonville with the ninth and 20th overall selections, respectively, since before the season even started. But I think what should be talked about is that mock drafts, “big boards,” etc. are just educated guesses by football and draft pundits, or even just casual fans, and that is especially true this early in the process.

For my money, I put very little stock into NFL mock drafts prior to the NFL Combine (which begins on Monday, Feb. 24 and runs through Sunday, March 1), let alone before the Super Bowl is even played. So much is going to change between now and the draft (Thursday, April 23 through Saturday, April 25). Players will rise based on their performances at the combine, pro days, individual workouts, interviews and mores. Players will fall based on these performances as well, and if injuries or scandals are uncovered about these prospects during the vetting process. Not to mention there are going to be trades that are impossible to predict. There are too many variables, and there will be a lot of surprises on Draft Day itself.

I may come off as being a bit cynical with this take, but I can back up my stance on this with facts from last year:

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. is widely regarded as one of the leading NFL Draft analysts. His January 2019 mock draft 1.0 (this still requires ESPN+ access for some reason) had exactly one player picked in the correct spot (defensive tackle Quinnen Williams to the Jets at No. 3)...I guess I’ll give him an additional half-point for correctly projecting linebacker Devin Bush to the Steelers, but Kiper had Bush there 10 picks later. Some interesting tidbits In this iteration: Kiper had Joey Bosa going first overall, Josh Allen second overall (who of course fell to Jacksonville at No. 7). Kyler Murray at No. 13 (who went first overall) and several players who weren’t even drafted in the first two rounds, let alone the first round. He had Oklahoma offensive tackle Cody Ford going to Jacksonville — Ford ended up going in the second round (No. 38 overall) to the Buffalo Bills.

Let’s take a look at Todd McShay’s Mock Draft 2.0 from last February. Just like Kiper, McShay got one pick correct — defensive tackle Jerry Tillery going to the Los Angeles Chargers at No. 28 overall. He did also have Bush correctly placed with the Steelers, but again it wasn’t correct spot, and he also had Josh Jacobs pegged to the Raiders, but he was three picks late in his projection. McShay had Jeffery Simmons to Jacksonville (Simmons ended up going No. 19 overall to the rival Tennessee Titans). Both McShay and Kiper also had Dwayne Haskins as the first quarterback taken at sixth overall.

How about Bleacher Report’s lead NFL Draft Writer, Matt Miller? Taking a glance at his post-Super Bowl predictions from last year, he had, well, one first-round pick correct, which was Josh Jacobs to the Raiders at 24. Are you starting to see a theme here? Miller did have some other players to the correct teams — Drew Lock to the Broncos and Trayvon Mullen to the Raiders — but both of those players were second-round picks in reality. Miller got crazy for the Jaguars here, prior to the Nick Foles signing, by mocking Kyler Murray to Duval.

NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah’s 2019 Mock Draft 1.0 also got one out of 32 picks correctly placed. His lone accurate pick was tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Lions. He also had Murray going No. 32 to the Patriots, the complete opposite of what actually happened. Similar to McShay, Jeremiah also had Simmons to the Jags. DJ did have Bush to the Steelers, but again this was at pick No. 20, not pick No. 10.

To be quite frank, even “final” mock drafts from these experts and pundits have low accuracy rates. In my opinion, these things are just about impossible to peg with even about 50 percent accuracy. Jeremiah and McShay led the pack last year with nine picks correct, while Kiper and Miller had seven picks in the correct spots.

I am not calling these specific analysts out, they’re the best in the industry at what they do, but it goes to show how difficult this is to project. I could go on about this and add more examples from fellow draft pundits, but we would be here all day. Things are fluid and change quickly during draft season, and that’s why there are so many different versions and publications mocking the draft.

While mock drafts and projections are a ton of fun to look at, and trust me I am totally guilty of getting hyped up by them, I would just advise not to get too hung up on the early iterations of such things, or even the later versions. Outside of Joe Burrow and Chase Young likely going in the top-five, don’t count on much from now being reflected in late April.